The representation of pigs/boars in Old Norse Narrative Texts is very different depending on the type of text in question. While association with pigs is on the one hand seen as a degrading experience, boars are present in poetry and mythographic texts as symbols of war and warrior status, as best epitomised by the lists of heiti (names) for boar in Skáldskaparmál (v. 513; discussed below).
Sögur: In Guðmundar saga Arasonar, the pigs are clearly kept close enough to the farmhouse for a sow to break down the door and kill a child in the house before returning to her sty (ch. 6). Here the close association of pigs with the home is combined with the more dangerous associations of the fornaldarsögur, in which pigs are often wild and supernatural in nature. In these more fantastical sagas, boars can appear as companions of the enemies of the hero (for example, Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, ch. 17), or as objects of worship. As objects of worship, it has been suggested that the trollish or monstrous boar is interchangeable with a monstrous bull, which often appears in some fornaldarsögur fulfilling the same role as the boar fulfils in others (Hui). Large and worshipped boars are found in Hrólfs saga kraka (ch.28), and Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (ch.9), in which the large, golden-bristled boar is reminiscent of Freyr’s boar Gullinbursti in Gylfaginning (47). In some manuscripts of Hervarar saga, the boar is explicitly called a sónargǫltr (atonement-boar, sacrifice-boar) and given to Freyr (Turville-Petre 78). Although there is a clear divide between monstrous boars (Hrólfs saga, Bósa saga and Hálfdanar saga), and beautiful boars (Hervarar saga), both types of boar have their unnaturally large size in common.
A supernatural aspect of pigs is also found in the Íslendingasögur, in Gull-Þóris saga (ch. 10 and 17) and Harðar saga (ch. 26). In these fourteenth-century sagas, we find the motif of humans turning into pigs, assuming the appearance of pigs, or controlling the animals by supernatural means. In these two sagas, it is only after the death of the magical woman who affected these transformations that the human nature of these pigs is revealed. The association between women and pigs is also emphasised in an earlier saga, Eyrbyggja saga (ch. 20), in which a woman called Katla appears to cast the likeness of a boar on her son so that he might evade capture by his enemies (albeit only until his enemies recruit a sorceress of their own). Human-pig transformation appears prominently in the fornaldarsögur, with transformation of humans into pigs appearing in Göngu-Hrólfs saga (ch. 33), Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar (ch. 8), and Bósa saga ok Herrauðs (ch. 14); as well as Sigrgarðs saga frækna, in which a young woman is transformed into a sow (ch. 11). In this saga, the transformation has been affected by a curse, and the woman is explicitly freed by removal of the svínhamr (pig-skin; ch. 15).
Pigs are sometimes used in insults in the saga literature (for example, in Valla-Ljóts saga, ch. 1), and in Hrólfs saga kraka (ch. 30) we appear to find reference both to the totemic nature of boars to Scandinavian warrior society, and the degradation of association with them. In Chapter 30, King Hrólfr ventures to retrieve his inheritance that King Aðils has kept from him. One item in this inheritance is the ring Svíagrís (Piglet of the Swedes). When riding away, and being pursued by King Aðils, Hrólfr drops a large amount of gold to distract their pursuers, and drops Svíagris so that Aðils will stoop and retrieve the ring – when he does so, Hrólfr says: “I have made the greatest of the Swedes stoop like a swine” and shames Aðils by slicing his buttocks (Byock, ch. 30). Evidently in this episode, the pig is both a worthy name for a precious ring associated with the ability or legacy to rule, and an insult to be used against an enemy. The insult seems to lie in Aðils’ stooping to the ground, like a pig rooting in the earth. However, elsewhere in the sagas, in Ragnars saga Loðbrókar (ch. 15) and Þórðar saga hreðu (ch. 4), we find two phrases: gnydia mundu nu grisir, ef þeir visse, hvat enn gamle þyldi (the piglets would roar now, if they knew what the old one suffered; Ragnars saga) and rýta mun gǫlturinn ef grísinn er drepinn (the boar will roar if the piglet is killed; Þórðar saga). In these cases, the behaviour of boars and piglets is utilised to indicate a heroic death and the inevitability of vengeance, and pigs are associated with noble, warrior-like behaviour that fits with the battle-association of boars found particularly in the heiti for pigs in Skáldskaparmál.
Names of men in the sagas also exhibit pig elements, and these are exhibited in various ways. There are people called by names that are otherwise terms for boar or pig, for example, Þrándr (castrated boar), Gríss (piglet) and Galtr (boar), combined names such as Svína-Grímr (Pig-Grímr; Haraldssona saga ch. 7), and figures for whom a pig term is an epithet, for example, Sigurðr Sýr (Sigurd Sow), the stepfather of Óláfr Haraldsson (Óláfs saga ins Helga, ch. 1).
Ausg.: E. Ó. Sveinsson/M. Þórðarson (eds): Eyrbyggja saga. Íslenzk Fornrit IV, 1935; B. Aðalbjarnarson (ed.): Óláfs saga ins Helga, in: Heimskringla II. Íslenzk Fornrit XXVII, 1945, 1-415; B. Aðalbjarnarson (ed.): Haraldssona saga, in: Heimskringla III. Íslenzk Fornrit XXVIII, 1951, 303-346; C. Tolkien (ed.): Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. 1956; J. Kristjánsson (ed.): Valla-Ljóts saga, in: Eyfirðinga Sǫgur. Íslenzk Fornrit IX, 1956, 230–260; J. Halldórsson (ed.): Þórðar saga hreðu, in: Kjalnesinga saga. Íslenzk Fornrit XIV, 1959, 161-226; G. Jónsson (ed.): Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda IV, 1976, 245-285; G. Jónsson (ed.): Hrólfs saga kraka, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda I, 1976, 1-105; G. Jónsson (ed.): Ragnars saga loðbrókar, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda I, 1976, 219-285; G. Jónsson (ed.): Göngu-Hrólfs saga, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda III, 1976, 161-280; G. Jónsson (ed.): Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda III, 1976, 1-73; G. Jónsson (ed.): Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, in: Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda III, 1976, 281-322; A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, 1982; S. Karlsson (ed.): Gudmundar sögur biskups, 1983; Þ. Vilmundarson/B. Vilhjámsson (eds): Þorskfirðinga saga eða Gull-Þóris saga, in: Harðar saga. Íslenzk fornrit XIII, 1991, 173-227; Þ. Vilmundarson/B. Vilhjámsson (eds): Harðar saga. Íslenzk Fornrit XIII, 1991; J. McKinnell: The Saga of Killer-Glum, in: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders II, 1997, 267-313; P. Acker: The Saga of the People of Floi, in: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders III, 1997, 271-304; J. Quinn: The Saga of the People of Eyri, in: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders V, 1997, 131-218; A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Skáldskaparmál, 1998; J. Byock (trans.): The Saga of Hrólfr Kraki, 1998; A. Hall/S. D. P. Richardson/H. Þorgeirsson: Sigrgarðs saga frækna: A normalised text, translation, and introduction. Scandinavian-Canadian Studies 21 (2013), 80-155.
Lit.: G. Turvlle-Petre: Notes and Glossary, in: Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, 1956, 73–143; J. Y. H. Hui: Bad Beef and Mad Cow Disease in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, Scandinavian Studies (forthcoming).
Harriet Jean Evans
Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál: In Gylfaginning, boars are associated with the god Freyr, and the feasting in Válhǫl. Two boars are mentioned: Gullinbursti, or Slíðrugtanni, (47) the boar of Freyr, and Sæhrimnir, the boar killed in Válhǫl every day for the sustenance of the warriors waiting for Ragnarǫk (32). In this, we see two key features of the boar: on the one hand as a totemic symbol of fertility or battle fierceness, and on the other, we have the boar as food, and specifically the food of warriors. Sæhrimnir is the animal that keeps on giving, magically reviving itself to provide food until the end of the world. While Gylfaginning is a mythographic text, written in Christian Iceland, and we cannot therefore know how prevalent or ancient these representations of boars were in pre-Christian Scandinavia, we do seem to have archaeological evidence for the totemic value of boars to warriors (Hedeager 75, 82, 86, 89) as well as poetic terms for warrior or kings, which also mean “boar” (jǫfurr). In addition, poetic names for helmets include hildigǫlt (battle-boar; Skáldskaparmál 58 and v.473) and hildisvín (battle-swine; Skáldskaparmál 58).
In Skáldskaparmál (v. 513), the lists of terms for pigs or boars include names such as valglitnir (slaughter-shiner), svíntarr (pig-stabber, boar), valbassi (slaughter-bear), þrór (thriver, tempered, also a sword name v.453), and vigrir (bearing spears, warlike). Clearly, in skaldic verse, boars were strongly associated with battle. The food function of boars, as represented by Sæhrimnir, also makes sense in the context of a northern warrior society as hunting boars would have been a dangerous undertaking and a way through which warriors might gain honour as well as food; although it should be noted that Sæhrimnir is not hunted, but rather offers himself each day to be slaughtered. This might be interpreted in two ways: either this boar is conceived of existing in a symbiotic relationship with the warriors (a relationship between honourable hunter and honoured prey that has been suggested for other hunting societies; Ingold 284), or this boar is not a wild boar, but rather a domestic pig, which might put a rather different spin on the glorious hall of Válhǫl.
Ausg.: A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, 1982; A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Skáldskaparmál, 1998.
Lit.: T. Ingold: Hunters, Pastoralists and Ranchers, 1980; L. Hedeager: Iron Age Myth and Materiality: An Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400-1000, 2011.
Harriet Jean Evans
Lieder-Edda: In the Poetic Edda, pigs/boars are even more rare than in the Prose Edda. There are only three references, one of which is to the boar Hildisvín, which is ridden by Freyja in Hyndluljoð (st.5 and 7). This boar is also described as golden-bristled and made by dwarves, like Gullinbursti in Gylfaginning (47). It seems therefore to be the case that either a tradition existed of Freyr and Freyja both riding magnificent boars crafted for them by dwarves, or these two boars are the same, with simply different names. In the poetic language of skaldic verse, with kenningar and heiti, it is evident that multiple signifiers could be used for the same image, and so a boar-steed called either Gullinbursti, Slíðrugtanni, or Hildisvín, associated with Freyja/Freyr may have had many names. Intriguingly, one of the heiti given for pigs in Skáldskaparmál is vaningi (Van-born, v. 513), and Freyr and Freyja are often interpreted as members of the Vanir. The battle associations of boars, emphasised in Skáldskaparmál, suggests that the boar should perhaps be more closely linked with Freyja, as she appears to have had links with the warrior-dead, as Snorri writes that she receives half of the slain (24). In contrast, Freyr appears to be a god of fertility and kingship (Turville-Petre 78), although the fecundity of pigs could also make the boar an appropriate symbol of fertility. The second reference to pigs in the Poetic Edda, is to Sæhrimnir in Grímnismál (st.18), in which we find the same impression as given in Gylfaginning (32), of the boar feeding the einherjar. A third reference to pigs is found in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I (st.44), in which feeding pigs is seen as a degrading activity compared to the feeding of the ravens. Here we see the same insulting potential as we find in some of the saga literature discussed above, associating pigs with farm-work as opposed to the work of warriors.
Ausg.: A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, 1982; A. Faulkes (ed.): Edda: Skáldskaparmál, 1998; J. Kristjánsson/V. Ólason (eds): Eddukvæði. Íslenzk Fornrit XXXVI, 2014;
Lit.: G. Turville-Petre: Notes and Glossary, in: Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, 1956, 73–143.
Harriet Jean Evans